Obviously, car portable fridge freezers are better than thermoelectric coolers at keeping food and beverages cold. If money is no object, just bring a portable refrigerator.
However, if you're trying to find an alternative to a traditional freezer cooler that keeps food cold without handling ice cubes, a thermoelectric cooler might be a good choice.
But you should also be well aware of the advantages and disadvantages of portable thermoelectric coolers
- Thermoelectric coolers are much cheaper than portable refrigerators. Portable designed for camping or boating
Cons: Thermoelectric coolers are generally not temperature controlled. Portable refrigerators are designed to maintain a specific temperature, which is what most people expect when buying a thermoelectric cooler. However, most people either find their thermoelectric coolers too cold (to freeze contents) or too hot (drinks and food are not cold enough). This is because thermoelectric coolers are differential coolers - they can only keep the inside of the cooler about 40 degrees cooler than the outside air. Portable refrigerators work completely differently, so don't have this problem. Portable refrigerators maintain the same temperature no matter what (assuming they're plugged in, of course).
- The thermoelectric cooler is sturdy and reliable. Because they have few moving parts, thermoelectric coolers can be dropped or kicked away without damage. The only parts in a thermoelectric cooler that will wear out are the fans that circulate outside air through the plates. As long as that fan is working, the cooler should work fine.
Cons: Thermoelectric coolers are not very energy efficient. Most thermoelectric coolers require 3 to 5 amps at 12V to stay cool. This is 3-5 times the amount of electricity required by a good portable refrigerator.
- Thermoelectric coolers last a long time. At some point, the Peltier plates in thermoelectric coolers will wear out, but not for long (maybe years of use). In fact, many truck drivers have purchased and used a thermoelectric cooler every day for years. They work well for occasional use camping, boating, etc.
Cons: Thermoelectric coolers may not be suitable for storing food. Foods such as milk, meat, butter, cheese, jam, or jelly should be stored below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to inhibit bacterial growth. If these foods are warmer than 40 degrees, they can become breeding grounds for bacteria that cause food poisoning.
- Thermoelectric coolers are usually highly insulated. Portable thermoelectric coolers are just as insulated as regular coolers. Cold food in the cooler should stay refrigerated for several hours, even without power.
Cons: Thermoelectric coolers cannot get wet (inside or outside). Regular coolers -- and most portable refrigerators -- will work just fine if they get wet inside. You also don't have to worry about the ice melting and ruining. However, if you put some ice in the thermoelectric cooler and the ice melts, it will damage the Peltier plates in the cooler and ruin it.
- Thermoelectric coolers can operate in reverse (heating food instead of cooling it).